A Hike in the Mountains

What a great trail!

On Wednesday, I went hiking with my new midweek hiking friends, Sue and Jerry. They’re both retired and they know a lot of local trails — including more than a few just a short distance from our homes.

Penny in 2012
I found this photo of Penny shot that day in August 2012. She was probably about 5 months old here.

Wednesday’s hike was actually on two different trails: Devils Spur and Beehive. We drove up toward Mission Ridge on Mission Ridge Road and parked at the last switchback, which is the trailhead for the Devils Spur Trail. There’s a viewpoint there where you can look down into Squilchuck Valley — I’d been there a few times in the past — and a closed road that led off into the forest. I’d hiked a bit on that road with Penny the Tiny Dog back in 2012, but hadn’t gone far, mostly because I was worried about Penny and the potential for encountering predatory animals on a trail I knew nothing about.

But Sue and Jerry knew the trail well. It wound into the forest, a former road blocked off for hiking and biking only. I was surprised to see felled trees and cleared forest a little way in — it certainly hadn’t been like that two years ago — but realized it likely had to do with the 2012 fires that occurred after my hike with Penny. Then the forest returned to its natural dense growth.

Forest Trail
Can you see Penny sniffing at something up ahead on the trail?

It was cool and moist in the shade — so unlike the desert around my home less than 10 miles away. I was glad I’d worn a fleece sweatshirt. But just when it got uncomfortably cool, the trail would open up to a dry, exposed patch, full of warm sunlight. The sweatshirt came off. And just when I was starting to get really hot, the trail dove back into cool, shady forest. It made the switch over and over for the entire length of the hike.

Jerry accompanied us about a mile up Devils Spur trail. Just before the trail narrowed, he turned back. He has a bit of acrophobia and a while later, I realized why he didn’t want to continue with us — the trail wound along a narrow ledge on a cliff face of volcanic talus. Instead, he went back to get the car and drive it around to the Beehive Trailhead where we’d emerge some time later.

Sue and I (with Penny) continued along the trail. Sue is very knowledgeable about the mushrooms we saw along the way and even pointed out some clearly visible fossils on a rocky outcropping the trail passed. Penny ran ahead as she always does, occasionally running back to hurry us along. The trail climbed about 600 feet over about 2 miles — a gentle grade that didn’t require many rest stops. It was a perfect day for hiking, with calm winds, cool air, and clear skies.

Fossilized Leaf
I would have walked right past this rock full of fossils if Sue hadn’t pointed it out. This leaf was especially clear and easy to see.

The trail approached the old Pipeline trail, which runs alongside Forest Road 9712. I’d driven quite a distance on that gravel road in 2013 several times, including with my friend Janet, who was visiting from Colorado. Recently, I’d taken the Jeep up there with my friend Bob and noted that they were doing some sort of work on the pipeline. That Wednesday, they were hard at it and as we got close, we heard the steady beep-beep-beep trucks backing up. We never did see them, though. The trail reached 9712 where it turned back downhill as the Beehive Trail and we started our descent to Beehive Reservoir.

Vista from Trail
There were sweeping vistas down toward Wenatchee from various points along the trail. My home is at the base of the cliffs nearly dead center in this photo.

We were about a mile down the trail when we saw another hiker approaching from the other direction. It was Jerry. He’d parked the car and walked up to meet us. I assumed we were close, but there was still another mile or so to go. I think he got the same length hike we got, but did two out-and-backs rather than a long one-way hike.

Hike Track
Here’s our track as recorded by Gaia GPS. The blue pins indicate places I took photos; the photos are uploaded with the track on Gaia Cloud.

The hike was just the right length for me: just over 4 miles. I tracked it with Gaia GPS on my iPhone, which I highly recommend to anyone who hikes with a smartphone. (The main benefit: being able to load detailed topo maps before starting the hike so a cell phone signal is not necessary to view live location-on-map data.) I took photos along the way and later uploaded the track and photos to the Gaia Cloud.

It was a great hike — one I hope to do again, perhaps with my Meetup group. This is certainly the right time of year for it. Many thanks to Sue and Jerry for introducing it to me!

On Last Vacations

A blog post triggers memories.

On this date in 2011, I wrote the last of three blog posts about what would be my last vacation with my wasband. There was supposed to be six in the series — one post for each day of the trip — but I must have gotten busy or distracted or simply lost interest and never blogged about the other three days. They’re lost in time like so many things I experienced in life and now barely remember.

(That’s why I blog about my life. So I remember things. This blog has 11 years of memories stored in it. So far.)

The vacation was in September 2011, a trip around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I’d finished up my last cherry drying contract before my wasband arrived. I was living in my RV, as usual, which was parked across the street from the last orchard on my contract, a beautiful and quiet place overlooking Squilchuck Canyon. The plan was to take a nice, leisurely drive west and hop a ferry to the Peninsula, then circumnavigate it. I think my wasband took a whole week off from work to do it.

This wasn’t my wasband’s first trip to Washington that summer. He came twice.

As usual, he came for my birthday — which I really wish he didn’t do. Back in those days, my summers were usually spent at my computer, revising one book or another. That year, I’d been working on my Mac OS X 10.7 book, which had a very tight deadline. For the previous editions, I’d worked closely with my editors to get the book in Apple stores on the date the OS was released. That quick publication, which required intense, often 10- or 12-hour days at my desk, was partially responsible for the book’s good sales figures. It didn’t matter if my birthday or a visit from a friend or loved one happened when the deadline was looming: I had to work until I was finished.

My wasband didn’t seem to understand this and always scheduled a visit for my birthday. It caused a lot of stress. He seemed to think that my birthday was a special day that required his attendance. I considered it just another day in my life, one that often required me to work. That’s part of the life of a freelancer: you work when there’s work and you play when there isn’t work.

In the summer of 2011, I managed to finish the book before he went home and we had some time together. But still, I clearly recall being in Leavenworth with him, just walking around the shops, when a panicky call came from my editor. I can’t remember the details, but it required me to get back to my trailer, which was an hour’s drive away, and email or ftp him a file for the printer. It couldn’t wait — the book was going to press and that file was absolutely needed. So we hurried to the truck and rushed back, thus pretty much ruining what should have been a stress-free day.

Picnic Spot
Our picnic spot along the bank of a river on Day 3 of that last vacation.

My wasband returned in September for our Olympic Peninsula trip. You can read about the first three days starting here. It was a great trip, possibly one of my Top 10. It was like the old days, when we did long road trips together: Seattle to San Francisco, the Grand Circle, Death Valley and Las Vegas, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway by motorcycle. We explored back roads, did the tourist thing, hiked, picnicked with cheese and crackers at roadside stops, photographed the scenery, and ate all kinds of foods. We stayed in great places and crappy places. Not everything was perfect, but what trip is?

Sunset over Victoria
On the second day, we took a ferry to Victoria, B.C.

When the trip was over, he headed home to Arizona without me. He had to get back to work, back to a job he hated, working for a micromanaging boss who’d fire him less than eight months later — even after I took him and his wife on a dinner trip by helicopter in an attempt to help my wasband score points.

Based on blog posts, it looks as if I headed back to Arizona with my helicopter in early October. Not sure why I stayed so long, but there must have been a good reason. I suspect I drove the RV back before that, but I don’t have any blog posts with details and my calendar doesn’t go back that far.

Yes, I made two trips to and from Washington each year — once to move my RV and again to move my helicopter. My wasband made the RV trip with me once in six years, taking a vacation through several national parks on the way home. I think he made the helicopter trip with me twice. It was a lot of traveling. The RV move was particularly stressful and lonely, especially if the weather turned bad along the way.

When I got back to Arizona, I started noticing a change in my wasband. He was cold and distant and never seemed happy. I assumed it was because of his job. His roommate had moved out of the Phoenix condo and I moved in. We fixed the place up nicely, with new furniture and my office set up in the guest room. Now we could spend more time together without his roommate criticizing half the things I did or said. But things just weren’t quite right.

It wasn’t until much later that I’d discover he’d been emailing an old friend back in New York that autumn about how I was “driving him crazy.” He never did tell me. I never knew that I was the cause of his unhappiness — even after visiting a marriage counsellor (at his request). I did know that he was making me miserable.

Later, at his mother’s 90th birthday party in September 2012, a few months after he’d ended our marriage with a phone call on my birthday — no visit that year! — as he was introducing the desperate old woman he’d replaced me with to his family and friends, he told a mutual friend that he was divorcing me because I hadn’t told him I loved him when he came to visit me on my birthday in 2011.

Draw your own conclusions. I did.

Anyway, the blog post I published on this date back in 2011 represents one of the last few times I was happy with my wasband. When the man I’d fallen in love with 28 years before returned to do something we loved to do together: explore new places and see new things.

I miss that guy.

My Lopez Island Vacation

A quick recap, with photos.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a full month since Penny and I got back from our week-long vacation to a friend’s home on Lopez Island. Time seems to zoom by these days.

I thought I’d take a moment to document the trip, mostly to help me remember it in the years to come. It was a great vacation — laid back but with enough activities to not only keep me entertained but to prevent me from gaining a pound despite all the wine and cheese I consumed with my friend.

Lopez Island

Lopez Island
Lopez Island is one of the San Juan Islands in the northwest corner of Washington state.

Steve and I had gone wine tasting in Napa Valley, CA in March and Woodinville, WA in May. It was at dinner after four Woodinville wineries that he’d invited me to stay at his Lopez Island place in August. That’s when my responsibilities for cherry season were finished and he would be taking his vacation. It was too good an offer to pass up.

Lopez Island is one of the San Juan Islands in the northwest corner of Washington State. It’s less than 30 square miles in size with a population of fewer than 3000 people.

Lopez Island can only be reached two ways: by boat or air — there’s no bridge. Ferry service is available from the mainland at Anacortes with stops at other San Juan Island ports such as Friday Harbor and Shaw Island. According to Google Maps, the 200-mile trip from my home would take just over five hours — assuming I reached the ferry terminal in time to drive right onto the ferry. Six hours is probably more accurate.

Needless to say, I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of driving there. So I treated myself to a helicopter flight. That was only about 90 minutes.

The Trip Out

Of course, before Penny and I departed that Saturday we had things to do. I put two racks of baby back ribs on the smoker at 9 AM and spent much of the day packing and running errands. I wanted to bring some goodies from Wenatchee, including Quincy corn, two kinds of fresh-baked bread, and buckboard bacon from Pybus Market’s Saturday Farmer’s Market, as well as fresh blueberries that still needed picking at a friend’s house. The ribs would pair perfectly with some “Singed Cat” Cab Franc wine from Malaga Springs Winery just down the street from my home. The wine was sort of smoke infused due to the smoke from wildfires in the area back in September 2012 when the grapes were picked. I packed two bottles of that, along with another four bottles of local wine for sharing with my host. I also had five different cheeses that I’d picked up from Beecher’s in Seattle on my way home from Phoenix earlier in the week. I never go to anyone’s home empty handed, but I think I took things to extremes on this trip.

By 1 PM, I’d loaded my big cooler with veggies from my garden and all the other perishables that I’d bought or picked. The wine had its own cooler. Both of these went into the back of the helicopter. My luggage went on the other back seat with my camera bag on the floor. I laid the ribs, wrapped in thick foil, on the floor beneath the coolers. I put Penny’s bed on the front passenger seat, but after a moment sitting there in the sun while I ran up the engine, she wanted to sit in back. The only place to put her bed was on top of the cooler, which was about level with my head. She seemed comfortable enough there. I lifted off around 1:15 PM. After a quick stop at Pangborn Airport to top off both fuel tanks, I pointed the helicopter northwest.

Leaving Wenatchee
It was a beautiful day in Wenatchee, warm with scattered clouds that seemed to thicken to the west.

The flight was mostly uneventful. I tried to keep my route as straight as possible, but there were TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) in the area due to the wildfires we’d been having. One of them was in my path just west of Leavenworth. I kept south of it, flying up Icicle Creek and hugging the base of Cashmere Mountain so as not to stray into it. It was an extremely pleasant flight, cradled at the base of the mountains over the creek, to the end of the paved and then dirt road and beyond.

Icicle Creek
A flight up Icicle Creek.

The farther up the creek I got, the thicker the clouds ahead of me got. The higher I climbed up the drainage, the closer I got to all those thick clouds. I dropped down closer and closer to the trees to stay under the clouds. I slowed down as the path ahead began to look more and more iffy.

A quick look at my location on a sectional chart in Foreflight told me I was just south of Stevens Pass, the highest point on my trip west. If I could just get over the pass, I would probably be okay. Probably.

I started getting hopeful at 35 seconds into this GoPro nosecam clip from my flight. If you listen closely to the audio, you’ll hear the blade flap when I slowed way down before crossing over the ridge.

Finally, I was within about 50 feet of the Ponderosa pine trees, moving ahead cautiously at about 60 knots. Wisps of clouds were tangled in the treetops on either side of me. I looked ahead anxiously at the gap I’d have to pass through. All I saw were clouds — at first. Then an opening with trees beyond it. Could I get through?

I could, but barely. I squeezed through the pass under the low clouds and wound my way between clouds at my elevation, descending over Route 2 just west of Stevens Pass.

Whew.

The rest of the trip was under overcast skies. I beelined it for the coast, flying over Arlington Airport along the way. I detoured north around the surface airspace for Whidbey Island NAS, not really interested in talking to the tower there. That’s when I started noticing a light fog over the water up ahead. Dang!

Fog Over Puget
Fog drifted about 50 feet over the surface of the water west of Anacortes.

I called my host to see what conditions were like at his home. It went right to voicemail. I left a message and pointed the helicopter across the Rosario Strait. The fog below me was light — I could see an occasional boat down there — but I wasn’t sure what lay ahead.

I was over Decatur Island when Steve called back. It was clear, he reported. By that time, I’d gotten the feeling it would be. The fog seemed localized between Decatur Island and Anacortes. I told him I was five minutes out. Five minutes later, I flew over Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island. I scanned the shoreline and saw Steve and his sister waving. I circled around and came in for a landing, touching down lightly on the sea grass between the shore and his home.

Sure beats driving.

A Week of Fun and Relaxation

Seagull on Log
The rocky beach was full of driftwood logs that made perfect perches for seagulls.

Steve greeted me with a hug and introduced me to his sister, Kathi. Then we offloaded the helicopter and brought everything up to the house. (The ribs were still warm.) I brought my luggage up to the guest room and then set up an area in the corner of the kitchen for Penny’s food and water. Then we unloaded my groceries and stowed everything in his already packed refrigerator.

After we were settled in, Steve, Penny, and I went for a walk to the beach and walked the length of the causeway that separates Fisherman’s Bay from Griffin Bay and San Juan Island beyond it. Penny ran ahead of us, sniffing at the kelp washed up on shore and chasing seagulls and killdeer.

Helicopter at Lopez Island
I shot this photo of Steve’s back yard from the guest room balcony not long after arriving. I had to admit that my helicopter looked even better in Steve’s backyard than it does in my front yard.

Later, we sat on an upstairs deck to munch on wine and cheese and watch the sun set. Then we came downstairs and fixed up a dinner of Quincy corn on the cob, sliced cucumbers from my garden, sea asparagus Steve had harvested from his yard, and smoked ribs from my Traeger, finished off with some homemade barbecue sauce on Steve’s grill. Steve and Kathi seemed to like the Singed Cat as much as I did — the three of us polished off both bottles. We talked until well after dark and turned in for the night.

More Fog
In the morning the bay was shrouded in a thick fog that took some time to lift.

After breakfast, Steve, Penny, and I headed out on Steve’s little boat to drop the crab traps. We both had fishing licenses that allowed us to catch dungeness crabs and wanted to get the traps in the water as quickly as possible because they needed to be pulled on Monday per fishing rules.

Later in the day, we headed out to Shark Reef, with a great hiking trail that wound through woods before emerging at the shore where giant elephant seals sunned themselves on the rocks and bull kelp floated on the water.

Shark Reef
Panoramic view of the poorly named Shark Reef, which has elephant seals instead of sharks.

Elephant Seal
Does this look like a shark to you?

We spent a lot of time just talking and walking and taking photos. Steve is into photography even more than I am and I enjoyed seeing his 6’4″ frame folded up to get a closeup shot of a flower or interesting rock. It’s refreshing to go on a photo walk with someone who understands the importance of light in photography; we did almost all of our photo walks late in the afternoon when the sun was low in the horizon, casting a golden light.

For dinner back at the house, we had salmon that Steve marinated and then grilled. More wine, this time some Chardonay from Steve’s collection.

Sunrise
Sunrise varied from one day to the next; this one, shot from my window on Monday morning, was especially colorful.

Monday morning’s activity included a drive out to Fisherman Bay Spit Preserve at the entrance to Fisherman Bay. That’s where I got my introduction to sea glass — broken glass pieces that have been ground down by the sand and motion of the water. I eagerly joined in the hunt, although I only seemed able to find very small pieces of the stuff while Steve managed to find lots of large ones.

We also visited the local transfer station and a spot the locals call Neil’s Mall — a place where people leave possessions they no longer want and take possessions others have left behind. Steve was looking for a new coffee maker or a carafe for the one he’d broken on the coffee maker he had. Neil’s had both. We wound up taking a gently used Braun drip coffee maker that seemed to have all the parts. Later, we cleaned it up, set the clock, and even programmed it for the next morning’s coffee.

Kathi left around midday and Steve, Penny, and I went out in the boat again to try some salmon fishing. Steve piloted the boat up the bay and out the mouth of it, then back down the shoreline to a point not far (as the crow flies, anyway) from his house. We tried various places, spending a total of about 2 hours without any luck at all.

Crabs for Dinner
We caught three good-sized dungeness crabs on Monday and enjoyed them for dinner that night.

On the way back, however, we stopped to pull in the crab traps we’d set the day before and were rewarded with three keepers. Guess what we had for dinner that evening with the champagne I’d brought along to go with a shellfish dinner?

Kathi’s husband John arrived that evening, too. He’d be with us for the rest of the week, attending a golf tournament on the island and doing work with his computer when he wasn’t out golfing.

I think it was Monday night that Steve and I ventured out onto the back lawn after nightfall for some star photography. I’d come without a tripod, but Steve had his. He said he didn’t have much experience doing star photography, but he certainly had a good helping of beginner’s luck — almost every one of his shots included an amazing star field.

After breakfast on Tuesday, we headed out in the helicopter for pie. A friend of mine had told me that the best airport pie could be found at Port Townsend Airport. Although Steve had been flying with me before — I’d taken him and his sister Kriss on an aerial tour of Napa Valley back in March — neither he nor I had been flying around the San Juan Islands. Airport pie seemed like a pretty good excuse to get airborne.

I pulled both front doors off the helicopter for airflow and so Steve could use his camera without worrying about window reflections in his shots. I loaded Penny in the back seat on her bed. Then we took off from Steve’s backyard.

We flew east over Decatur Island and Anacortes, then followed the shoreline of the mainland south before crossing Skagit Bay to the east side of Whidbey Island. We flew just south of Oak Harbor and over San de Fuca, then crossed the bay to Port Townsend. The airport was south of town. We landed at the end of the parking area and walked to the Spruce Goose restaurant.

Spruce Goose Restaurant
The Spruce Goose does indeed have the best pie at any airport I’ve ever been to.

Although the restaurant had an outdoor eating area, Penny wasn’t allowed to sit with us there. So I tied her up nearby while Steve and I sat down for some pie. I had rhubarb (my favorite) with a glass of milk. I honestly can’t remember what Steve had. But I do remember that both were excellent.

After our pie, we fetched Penny and walked around the airport ramp area, looking at the planes. I told Steve what I knew about each model we saw — which wasn’t much. Steve isn’t a pilot but was interested in the planes. Actually, like me, he seems to be interested in most everything.

When we left, I decided on a more direct route back. Not the direct route — that would have had us flying over water for about 15 miles — but a route that took us up the west coast of Whidbey Island, past the navy airbase. That meant talking to the tower. I was pleasantly surprised when they cleared us to fly per my request. (I think Steve was impressed.) Later, as we neared the airbase, they amended our instructions to fly at 1500 feet over the field. As we did, we watched two F18s (in formation) and an air tanker take off below us. Very cool.

Whidbey Island
Overflying the airbase at Whidbey Island.

We crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the southeast corner of Lopez Island. But rather than go in for landing, we continued west to the west coast of San Juan Island. That’s where the orcas travel and we were interested in seeing them from the air. We flew up the coast and saw plenty of boats on the water and tourists at Lime Kiln Point State Park, a primary orca viewing area. But no whales.

San Juan West
The west coast of San Juan Island. I was about 10 miles from Canada here.

Low on fuel, I headed over to Friday Harbor Airport. I landed near the pumps and topped off the main tank; I knew I’d get more fuel in Bellingham or Arlington on the way home later in the week. Again, we decided to take a quick flight along the coast to look for whales. This time, we scored. There was an orca pod of at least six whales traveling south along the coast. Steve took a few pictures, but I didn’t dare fly any lower than the 500 feet I was at — the area was full of boats and spectators. I didn’t want to be blamed for “scaring off” the whales. We went past and I cruised away from the scene to give Steve time to change his lens. But when we returned, the whales were gone and the spectator boats were breaking up and going their separate ways. The show was over. We headed back to Steve’s place on Fisherman’s Bay.

Fisherman's Bay
Fisherman’s Bay from the air.

Later that day we headed out for yet another seashore hike. This time, we went to Iceberg Point on the southern tip of the island. (No, there weren’t any icebergs, either.) After a pleasant mile or so walk through cool forest, we emerged on a rocky, grassy point overlooking the mouth of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was clear and I was able to point out the Whidbey Island air base, mostly because its tower made a good landmark. We spent some time walking on pathways that wound among the rocks. Steve showed me some cacti that grew there — yes, cacti do grow in the Pacific Northwest. At first, I thought they were some form of cholla, which we have in Arizona, but they’re apparently brittle prickly pear, which is likely the same variety my neighbor gave me last year to plant in my garden. I realize now that I didn’t even take a picture of them, although I do have a picture of Steve taking a picture of them. (Don’t worry, Steve, I won’t share it here!)

Thistle Ladybug
I played around a bit with depth of field and focus on my Nikon with this view of a thistle and ladybug.

We spent hours there, walking, talking, exploring, taking photos. After a while, we found a quiet spot sheltered from the wind and just stretched out on the grass among the late summer wildflowers, listening to the sound of the waves on the shore and the gulls that flew by. Penny stretched out nearby in the tiny shade cast by my camera bag. It was nice to be unplugged and to go back to the basics of a more simple time. I thought about the countless trips I’d made to the shore on the east coast, alone or with a companion, and how I’d just soak in the scenery and the world around me. What happened to those times? It was good to get a chance to remember them, especially with a companion who seemed to feel the way I did about the experience.

Iceberg Point View
At one point, I sat up to take this photo of the view from where we lounged just listening to the sound of the waves and the birds.

The sun got ever closer to the horizon. When the temperature started to drop, we headed back out.

Near Iceberg Point
Here’s a look at Outer Bay on the walk back to where the car was parked t Agate Beach County Park.

Watmough Bay
A sailboat spied through the trees along the trail at Watmough Bay.

On Wednesday morning, after a search and rescue for Steve’s boat — I hadn’t tied it quite securely enough on Monday afternoon and the wind and tide took it for a short cruise without us — we did some work around Steve’s house, helping John set up some badly needed storage shelves in the garage.

Afterwards, we took another hike, this time along the south side of Watmough Bay, a sheltered cove surrounded by tall cliffs that’s apparently popular with sailors — there were three sailboats anchored there. The trail wound through thick, lush forest that offered glimpses of the bay beneath us as we climbed. Soon, the trail dropped us down into a tiny gravel beach where we spent some time looking for sea glass. Penny wandered off and found something super stinky to roll in. We hiked back to the head of the cove and walked along the beach there for a while.

Pebbles
It’s not easy to find sea glass when the beach is full of pebbles like this.

Back at the car, I had to wrap Penny in a tablecloth that Steve happened to have to prevent her from stinking up his car. A bath for her outside with the hose was the first order of business when we got back to Steve’s house.

Cabernet Sauvignon
I brought along these two Cabs specifically for a taste test.

That evening, we did a side-by-side taste test with the two Malaga Springs cabernets I’d brought along. They both went very well with the steak Steve grilled up for us. I think we both preferred the 2009 over the 2011, although Steve’s blend of the two was probably best of all.

On Thursday, we spent some time setting up a satellite dish antenna in Steve’s side yard. That meant digging a hole and planting a post, then mixing up some concrete and using it to secure the post in place. (We’d put the antenna on the post the next day, once the cement had cured.)

Steve put the crab traps back out that afternoon. Afterwards, we went for a bike ride out to Fisherman’s Bay Spit Preserve again. That’s when I realized how completely out of shape I was. I hadn’t ridden my bike in about two years and it really showed. The ride was short — only about 2 miles each way — and on relatively flat terrain. Steve loaned me a 21-speed bike quite similar to mine while he handicapped himself (so to speak) with a one-speed. Clearly I’d need to get more time in the saddle if I expected to go riding with him again.

Out at the point we spent some time just overlooking the entrance to the bay while boats came and went. A couple on a road trip from Maryland (if I recall correctly) stopped and chatted with us for a while. The air was warm and comfortable on yet another beautiful day. There’s something to be said about the rain shadow east of the Olympic Mountains and Lopez Island is definitely in it.

Fisherman's Bay Entrance
The bench we sat on at the point overlooked the mouth of the bay and this disused dock with the village of Lopez Island directly across from us.

We went out for dinner that night — my treat — at restaurant just up the road: The Galley. We had seafood (of course) and shared a bottle of wine. The food was excellent; the portions were huge. Outside the window, the sun set over the bay. I realized that my vacation was quickly coming to an end.

On Friday, after fiddling around a bit with the satellite dish, we each did our own thing. Steve went for a real bike ride and since we both knew that I’d just hold him back, he did it solo. Penny and I walked into town, a distance of about two miles. Along the way, I took photos of some of the flowers that were growing alongside the road and took a moment to check out the library, which is located in the original schoolhouse.

Flowers
I don’t know what these are but they were all over the place alongside the road.

Lopez Island Library
A panoramic shot of the Lopez Island Library, which is in an historic schoolhouse. I highly recommend stopping in if you’re ever out that way. It’s a really wonderful place.

While we were in town, I picked up some gifts for my host and a few small pieces of jewelry for myself; chatted with a gallery owner about glass work, helicopters, and the recent flash floods in the Twisp area; tasted some wine; and bought a whole salmon for dinner. The walk home wasn’t exactly fun — the bags were heavy! I refreshed myself with a quick shower before Steve returned, then faced the challenge of filleting the salmon. (Let’s just say I need practice.) Steve grilled up the salmon for dinner and we all feasted on it with some white wine from Steve’s collection.

The next day was Saturday, the day I had a good weather window for my flight home. It certainly didn’t start that way, though: the morning fog was accompanied by the sound of fog horns off in the distance. It took a while to burn off and when it did, we had yet another beautiful day.

Fog at Fishermans Bay
Saturday started with fog, but soon cleared up again.

While I waited for the fog to clear, I packed and did some laundry, then restored the guest room to the way it had been before I arrived, all ready for the next guest. We finished up the last of the blueberries with some yogurt and cereal — we’d actually eaten most of the food I’d brought, although a few pesky cucumbers and zucchini remained. Steve and I lounged in the living room together one last time and Penny curled up to nap on Steve’s lap.

I’d made plans to meet some friends of mine from Wickenburg in Bellingham; when the fog cleared, I texted them to give them an ETA. Then we packed up the helicopter, I put Penny on her perch atop the big cooler, and I said goodbye to my host. A while later, I was lifting off as Steve and his neighbors waved goodbye.

Bellingham and Beyond

The flight to Bellingham was quick — only about 15 minutes — and took me between Blakely and Obstruction Islands, up the coast of Orcas Island, and over Lummi and Portage Islands. I had become accustomed to flying longer than usual distances over water, but still kept higher than I normally would fly, watching out for the seaplanes I kept hearing on the radio.

Blakely Island
Most of the islands have airports; this is the one on Blakely Island.

The tower cleared me to land near the FBO. I shut down, put Penny on a leash, and went inside. My friends Stan and Rosemarie were waiting for me. We shared hugs and went out to their car. A while later, we were sitting on the patio at Anthony’s on the harbor. I had fried oysters — my favorite and not easy to come by in Wenatchee. We talked about all kinds of things, from what was going on in Wickenburg to how we’d spent our summers to the progress I was making on my new home. I hadn’t seen them since I moved out of Arizona in May 2013, although we’d spoken and texted several times since then and it was really good to catch up.

They had me back at the airport by 3 PM for my flight home. The flight was mostly direct, taking me right past or over more than a few very tall, rugged mountains. At least twice I found myself looking at the blue ice of small glaciers on north facing mountain tops. I spied hidden valleys and lakes and dozens of waterfalls. It was a really amazing flight, only slightly marred by the haziness caused by forest fires in the area.

Cascade Mountains
The North Cascades offer a rugged landscape with patches of snow in August.

Glacier View
I don’t know why I was so surprised to see glaciers, but there were at least two along my way.

Mountain Lake
Lakes like this one were hidden away up in high valleys, seldom seen by anyone other than pilots and adventurers on foot.

I did detour a bit to the north to avoid the TFR near Leavenworth. This time, I made a point of flying over Lake Wenatchee, which I’d never flown over. It looked smaller than I remembered it.

Then I was in familiar terrain, passing Cashmere, flying along the Wenatchee River, popping out at the confluence with the city of Wenatchee spread out before me.

Wenatchee from the Air
Wenatchee awaited me with yet another beautiful day.

I overflew my friend Bob’s house in East Wenatchee before turning toward home. As I touched down in my front yard, I thought about what a great vacation I’d had — including my trip there and back — and reminded myself how fortunate I am to have such great friends.

Home is Where the Heart Is

So good to be home.

I was away for about two months, on a frost contract in Woodland, CA near Sacramento.

When I moved my “mobile mansion” south in the middle of February, I was actually glad to be getting away from the Wenatchee area. I’d just spent my first winter back in a cold climate after about 15 Arizona winters. The short days combined with an amazing amount of fog — of all things — had made me kind of glum. Even though I’d was very comfortable with a house-sitting gig near my own home, I was ready for a break that included warm weather.

So when the frost control job in the Sacramento area materialized again this year with better standby pay coupled with the requirement to actually remain in the area for the duration, I jumped at it. I was heading south with my RV before the end of February and settled in at Watts-Woodland Airport by February 25.

Me in a Balloon
My hot air balloon flight was a highlight of the trip.

I had a great time in the Sacramento area. Daytime temperatures ranged from 60°F to 84°F with nighttime temperatures seldom dipping below 40°F. We were only put on call for possible frost flying once in 42 days. If my contract had been the same as the one I had in 2013, I would have taken a financial hit. But this contract paid better for standby so I was actually better off if I didn’t have to fly. So it was a win-win.

In fact, in a way it was like an all-expense-paid vacation with a bonus at the end.

I did a lot while I was there — kayaking in the American River and Putah Creek, hiking in the hills and in Muir Woods, ballooning, joy-flying in the helicopter, wine tasting in Napa Valley, whale watching, hosting friends, making new friends, visiting San Francisco. I even learned to fly a gyroplane. I blogged a bit about some of these things (follow the links) but not as much as I would have liked to — I was just too darn busy to sit down and write much!

Gyro Solo
I learned to fly this gyro in 6 days, soloing after just 7 hours of flight time. I’m now thinking a bit more seriously about a fixed wing rating.

Still, before March month-end, my Wenatchee area clients started calling, asking when I’d be back. They had places to go, things to photograph. The damage to the Wanapum Dam and the draining of the lake above it had all the locals wanting to see the river from the air. There was flying to do when I got home.

There was also a home to be built. I’d been sitting on plans for what’ll basically be a custom garage with living space for more than a year and had given the green light to the builder before heading south. They were planning on an April 30 start date. Some earth work needed to be done and I wanted to be there for the entire process.

So by the first week in April, I was anxious to get home.

I said my farewells to new friends and headed out with the RV in tow on Sunday morning, April 13. By sunset, I was parked in a very nice campsite on the Columbia River in Maryhill State Park, enjoying a full hookup and a full moon.

The next day, I continued on to Wenatchee, less than 4 hours away. I dropped my RV off at the local RV fixit place — the gas furnace had been misbehaving and wound up needing a circuit board — and drove the rest of the way up to my 10 acres of view property in Malaga.

Everything was just as I’d left it. I offloaded my bees, setting them up on a palette near where they’d lived before our trip south and took stock of the things I’d need to do to finish moving back in.

Then I went down to the valley and ran errands until 6 PM, when the RV was ready. After a quick hook up, we made the 20-minute drive back up the hillside and down the 2 miles of improved gravel road to my lot. It took a few moves to get the RV back in place beside the septic system connection, where I’d left the water and power lines waiting for me. Within an hour — including time spent chatting with a neighbor — I had everything all hooked up.

Moonset
I might have missed the eclipse Monday night, but I did catch the moon setting behind the cliffs from my home early this morning.

I really enjoyed seeing the lights of the city spread out before me that evening. It was mostly cloudy so I missed the eclipse, but I was too darn tired after my long trip and the setup to stay up anyway. I slept like a log.

The next few days were spent doing taxes — I always wait until the last minute — finishing setup, moving things in and out of storage, running errands, and meeting up with friends and contractors. Yesterday was overcast and rather cold — I could swear it was snowing up at Mission Ridge, which I can see from my place. I got home from errands by 6:30 and there was still plenty of light to watch a storm move in and the clouds descend over Wenatchee Heights and down toward Stemilt Hill. The sun broke through periodically, bathing the cliff walls north of me with a golden light.

Magic.

I lounged on the sofa with a book, relaxing with Penny on my lap. I think that’s when I first started to realize how good it felt to be home. And when I started to get really excited about the project ahead of me — building my dream home in a place I love.

This morning dawned mostly clear with crisp, clean air on a strong breeze. As I sat at the table with my coffee, writing in my journal, I looked up to see the valley washed in the golden hour light. I stepped outside with my camera for a few shots.

Morning from Cathedral Rock
I shot this photo from the steps of my RV this morning with my Nikon. This is uncropped, shot with a zoom lens set to 46mm (per Photoshop). I can’t tell you how good it feels to know that I’ll be able to see something like this every day right from my home.

I started having second (or third or fourth or fifth) thoughts about where I was putting my building. The builder and I had set corner stakes in February, before I left. (The last time I positioned a building, I’d wished I’d done it differently. But that was supposed to be a temporary building; not the only building on the property. And it’s now pretty much abandoned, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.) I wanted to get it right because it couldn’t be changed once the construction began. So I walked out to the building site with my coffee cup in hand and stood on the ground beneath where one of my bedroom windows would be. I looked out over the valley, reminding myself that I’d be about 12 feet higher when I was looking through a window or standing on the deck that would soon be above me.

And I liked what I saw: a beautiful, unobstructed view down toward Wenatchee and the Columbia River, with nothing but orchards and grasslands and scattered homes and mountains as far as the eye could see.

Home Sweet Home
I shot this image with my phone as I drove off to meet a friend for breakfast this morning. My home will be built to the left of the shed, beyond the frame of this photo.

I went inside to finish my coffee and journal entry.

A while later, my phone rang. It was Bob, one of the friends who’d called and texted me repeatedly while I was gone, just to catch up. That morning, he was looking for a companion for breakfast out. I said yes (of course) and hurried to get dressed, thinking about the warm hug I’d get when I saw him.

It was good to be home.

Missing Grandma at Muir Woods

Funny what you think about when you’re wandering among the giant trees.

I went to Muir Woods on Saturday, on my way home from whale watching. It was my third or fourth visit ever.

Muir Woods National Monument is a valley just north of San Francisco that’s filled with groves of giant redwood trees along a small creek. It features a boardwalk and paved pathway, several other trails, and signage to help you understand the ecology and history of the woods.

All the other times I’ve been there have been late in the day when the place was mostly deserted. On Saturday, I arrived at 5 PM and although the place was definitely emptying out, it was pretty obvious that it had been packed earlier in the day; there were cars parked along the road for at least two miles leading up to the park entrance with so many people walking back to them that I thought the cars were for some big party at Muir Beach.

In Muir Woods
It was dark down at the base of the tall trees.

Along the creek
There wasn’t much water in Redwood Creek, but it was picturesque, anyway.

Because of the time of day and the angle of the sun and the park geography, the pathways were in dark shadows. But if you looked up toward the tops of the giant trees, you’d see the sun still shining on them. Still, I didn’t take many pictures. Instead, I just walked along the pathways along the creek at my own pace, thinking about what I was seeing and trying to tune out the noise of the tourists all around me.

I remembered my first visit to Muir Woods, years before in January. Back in the 1990s, I was a regular speaker at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. I’d fly out for a few days — usually with my future wasband — see the show, do my speaking thing, and then spend some time in the area. Airfare and hotel costs in the city were a write-off as a business expense. The vacation tacked on afterward was just fun. One year we visited Napa Valley, another year we visited Sonoma Valley, another year we went south to Monterrey and St. Louis Obispo, and another year we headed to Hawaii. Those were great trips in days long gone.

I don’t remember which year we first went to Muir Woods. But I do remember the quiet of the woods and seeing two salmon heading up stream to spawn in water that was barely deep enough to cover them. One male, one female, several hundred feet apart, struggling to move upstream. I wanted so badly to just grab one of them and put it with the other one in the same pool of water so they could go about their business and die.

I don’t remember the park being very crowded or noisy. I just remembered it being dark and kind of hushed.

It was dark on Saturday, but definitely not hushed.

Even when signs asked visitors to “Enter Quietly” — as they do upon entry to the Cathedral Grove — people called back and forth to each other and kids screamed and cried. I could have been at the mall.

I tried hard to tune it all out, focusing on the tall, straight trees. And when I made a turn down a pathway and found myself in a little cul-de-sac with a bench before a huge tree, I found myself thinking about my grandmother.

Born in 1912 as one of eight children, my grandmother was a hardworking woman who never experienced much outside the world of her home in the New York Metro area. In the 1980s, when I had a job that required a lot of business travel, and then later, when I traveled with my future wasband, I’d send her a postcard from everyplace I went. That and television were he exposures to the rest of the country. When she died in 2002, we found a shoebox with all those postcards inside it. She’d kept every single one.

I found myself thinking about the last time I’d gone hiking with her. She was in her late 70s at the time and still very active, working part-time as a hostess in a family restaurant. I’d taken her to the State Line Lookout in Palisades Interstate Parkway and we’d walked one of the trails through the woods. I’d been worried about her when I realized how steep the trail was in parts, but I didn’t need to. At one point, I saw her stabbing a branch she’d picked up as a walking stick into a hole alongside the trail. When I asked her what she was doing, she told he she’d seen a snake go in the hole. Someone else’s grandmother (or mother or girlfriend, for that matter) might have screamed and run the other way. But not my grandmother. She was tough.

As I stood in the clearing at the base of the tree, I realized that the path through the woods was made so that everyone could enjoy the wonder of the trees, no matter how old or young they were. I found myself wishing that I could have brought my grandmother there. I could imagine her awe as she looked up and realized just how tall that tree was. Or when she looked at the base of the tree and realized just how big the trunk was.

“For crimsey’s sake!” she’d say. None of us knew where that came from but we knew that when she said it, it meant she was impressed. It was like me saying “Holy cow!” (or “Holy shit!”)

I wished I could shown her the big trees. Or the Grand Canyon. Or the view from my helicopter on a flight along the Pacific Coast. Or even the giant cactus that grew in my yard in Arizona or the amazing view from my homesite in Washington. The incredible but normal things beyond her limited range of travel and experience.

The things we take for granted as we make our way through life. The things we don’t miss if we never see them at all.

I miss you, Grandma.